Durban - An Amanzimtoti resident who pulled an unconscious toddler from the front passenger seat of a crashed car testified on Wednesday that he had not unbuckled a seat-belt before he did it.
“The airbag had released and the child was lying diagonally across the seat. The mother shouted ‘get him out of there’, so I removed him gently. He was not strapped in,” Malcolm Evans told Durban Regional Court magistrate Phumi Shoba.
He was giving evidence for the defence in the trial of pensioner Robert Gilmore who has been charged with murder in connection with the death of 3-year-old William Ratcliffe in August 2012.
His mother, Suzette Ratcliffe, says Gilmore, who was driving a beach buggy, turned in front of her path at a busy intersection as she was driving home after fetching William and his brother from school.
But Gilmore, who has admitted to having some drinks that afternoon and whose blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit when tested two hours later, claims he had stopped to allow pedestrians to cross when Ratcliffe, going far faster than the 50km/h she claimed to be driving, slammed into him.
Evans said he had been three cars back from the intersection when he heard a loud bang, but had not actually witnessed the accident.
“I saw smoke and I feared one of the cars was on fire. I ran up and opened the passenger door and saw the child inside. He was motionless and I removed him gently, shouting for help because he was not breathing.”
He said he put the child on the pavement and others, including a paramedic and a doctor, tried to resuscitate the child.
“At one stage, I saw Gilmore standing right there. He appeared to be in a shocked condition.
“From that day I have stopped cars, winding down my window and telling parents to put their children’s seat belts on and get them to sit down.”
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Barend Groen, Evans said he could not comment on previous evidence that the child had suffered what appeared to be a seat-belt injury.
Earlier, mechanic Seth Vaughan, who repaired Gilmore’s beach buggy, said the rear axle and drive shaft had been damaged and he believed this had been caused by a “heavy impact” accident, probably caused at a speed of more than 50km/h.
But he conceded under cross-examination that the buggy weighed 570kg as opposed to Ratcliffe’s BMW which weighed 800kg “and the lighter vehicle would have had more extensive damage”.
The trial was adjourned until next month for argument, Gilmore’s attorney Narem Narotem indicating he wished to study last year’s landmark Supreme Court of Appeal ruling which clarified the legal test for whether or not drivers were guilty of intentional murder or negligent culpable homicide, and which largely put the brakes on decisions by the prosecuting authority to press murder charges in these cases.
The court reduced the sentence of Western Cape taxi driver Jacob Humphreys from 20 years to eight years, replacing his 10 murder convictions with 10 of culpable homicide.
The taxi driver, who operated a shuttle service for schoolchildren, overtook a queue of cars and, dodging the closed booms, crossed the railway line. Ten children died when the train hit his minibus.
The trial judge ruled that he must have foreseen the consequence of his actions.
But the Supreme Curt of Appeal said while he may have foreseen the possibility of a collision, he clearly thought it would not happen because there was no evidence that he had reconciled himself with his own death should a train be crossing.
The evidence that he had dodged the booms on previous occasions had contributed to his “misplaced sense of confidence that he could safely repeat the same exercise”, the court found.